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Costume Designer

What They Do

Fashion Designers Career Video

Insider Info

Costume designers plan and create clothing and accessories for all characters in a film or theater production. They study the play or movie script and work closely with directors to design costumes that evoke a certain time, place and personality.

They may design for stage, film, television, dance or opera productions.

A costume designer's job starts with the production material. They learn the production's theme, location, dialog and characters, then meet with the director to learn his or her interpretation of the production.

Designers then create a rough costume plot, research the era that is being depicted, plan a preliminary color scheme and collect fabric swatches. Final color sketches are presented to the director and, if approved, the designer solicits bids from contractors such as sewers and drapers.

Designers work closely with drapers and sewers in costume shops. They also work with hairstylists and make-up artists. They supervise sittings and attend all dress rehearsals to make final adjustments and repairs.

Costume designers put in long hours of painstaking, detailed work while they're employed. However, the work can be erratic -- a busy period followed by weeks with no work.

Independent costume designer Rae Robison, for example, began work on a new Hollywood film project in 1999. After production meetings, Robison spent a month doing drawings and design work. The next two months were devoted to shopping and arranging everything in time for the film to begin shooting. Once filming starts, Robison generally spends another six weeks on the set.

"It pays very well during the time you're working," says Robison.

But when the work's over, costume designers often have to do some footwork to get the next gig.

Costume designers with experience will have little trouble finding work in the entertainment industries, particularly in the Los Angeles area, where television, film and stage provide plenty of projects.

"The market is very strong, and in L.A. there's a built-in job market. There's enough work to go around. I don't think the entertainment industry is ever going to go away," Robison says.

However, while Hollywood provides lots of employment for highly experienced costume designers, newcomers may have to work as interns, or work for deferred or no pay to get experience.

Where's the glamour in that? Fact is, there isn't much.

"The work isn't for the weak-hearted," says Robert Doyle, a veteran costume designer and teacher. "A dedicated desire for the work must be uppermost, since the myth that this career is glamorous is nonsense. Although there is glamour in the theater and film industry, professionalism is 98 percent perspiration and two percent inspiration."

In some cases, costume designers and the costume crew don't make costumes at all. They may assist during productions, helping people change costumes and fixing any problems.

Costume designers earn daily rates for an eight-hour day or weekly rates for an unlimited number of hours. Designers sometimes earn royalties on their creations.

In New York City, designers must be members of the United Scenic Artists Union, which sets minimum fees, requires producers to pay into pension and welfare funds, protects the designers' rights, establishes rules for billing and offers group health and life insurance.

"Pursue your dreams with integrity and sincerity," Doyle says. "This isn't a career for frauds. You ultimately must produce the goods."

At a Glance

Put actors in the proper clothes

  • The availability of work varies
  • There's lots of work for experienced people in places like Hollywood, but you can expect competition
  • A college degree isn't essential, but it helps